Pavlov’s Dog, Trading, and You

Ivan Pavlov was a famous Russian scientist, mostly known for his work in physiology. He won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1904.

He was apparently so famous and so highly regarded in the former Soviet Union that even Bolsheviks did not dare to touch him despite the fact that he loathed them. In 1923, according to Wikipedia, he claimed that he would not sacrifice even the hind leg of a frog to the type of social experiment that the Bolshevik regime was conducting in Russia.

Loathing Bolsheviks was associated with a higher mortality rate among those loathing them. Not unlike loathing Putin or his regime these days. It takes no Ph.D. to explain either.

Pavlov is particularly well-known for his work on conditioned reflexes that is often presented in terms of the Pavlovian dog. This famous dog shows a physiological reaction to a stimulus (condition) and shows the lack of it when this condition is removed. For instance, it can salivate when the stimulus is present.

One, quite cruel, example of this conditioned behavior in Pavlov’s times and the times preceding him was the behavior of circus bears that were trained to “dance” when some music was played. To train the bear to “dance,” the trainer would put the poor animal on a hot plate and started playing some tune. Because of the heat penetrating his feet, the bear had no choice but to keep raising his feet to minimize his suffering, which looked like “dancing.” After a few experiences of this sort, the bear would associate the music with heat and would start “dancing” whenever it was played.

Notice that the stimulus (playing music) is neutral and yet it can cause quite a reaction due to the conditioning that took place during the training. The neutral nature of the stimulus is typical of classical conditioning discovered by Pavlov and is one of the elements that differentiate it from operant conditioning discovered by Jerzy Konorski, a Polish neurophysiologist, who along with his collaborators extended Pavlov’s work. Classical conditioning and operant conditioning can be viewed as the foundation of behaviorism, an influential school of psychology, especially popular in the US, that these days may actually be enjoying some revival when applied to the socio-economic behavior.

I am not a dog (although on the Internet you never know), nor a bear, but humans, being just another animal species, exhibit the same behavior, and they often may not even realize that.

One thing I have been noticing for some time in my trading, or in my behavior as it relates to trading, is that I may seek trading in order to calm down, which seems rather perplexing as most people associate trading with increased levels of stress. That may be true, but trading also forces you to become calm and focused in order to perform well, and so after a while you come to associate it with a calm and focused mind and may be tempted to engage in it to simply calm down.

If you have not noticed such a behavior, you may still need more practice. It’s really the practice that makes you a good trader, though a good trading methodology can make a big difference too.

However, even the best methodology, will not make you a winning trader if you ignore the importance of practice. I think that’s what really separates the good traders from the poor traders: the practice and very focused practice at that, which means, in particular, that sticking to one methodology for a long time is better than trying a few methodologies for even a longer time. Of course, provided the methodology in question has ever showed any evidence that it could work for anyone or else you are just wasting your time.

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